Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017

Information literacy

New literacies for the new generation

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March 7, 2016

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Information literacy

The Information Age has brought with it more widespread access to information in a more complex range of thought and application from varied sources of information (like the Internet, Wikipedia or TV channels). Today’s learner must be taught to discern the difference between truth and its opposite, to separate facts from opinions and theory. Access to the varied new ‘literacies’ for surviving and thriving in this century of rapid change, development and innovation, are increasingly available to some children though sadly, there are many who do not have the means to access its gains.

We have moved a very long way from a simpler, more literal meaning of ‘literacy’, as the skill to read and write, to a wider and deeper inclusion of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills and their applications. Educators in the 21st century are charged with educating students to be successful in a very complex, interconnected world. This responsibility requires schools and teachers to prepare students for technological, cultural, economic, informational, and demographic changes. To enable the newer generation to ‘learn for life’, school years are vital to exploring and learning the skill sets required towards their personal, social and economic well-being in a complex information society.

In this, the digital age, technological, economic and behavioural changes are dramatically altering how we communicate. Information is more fragmented and ubiquitous and there is often lack of authenticity, quality and relevance in the overload of information that is thrust on us through print and visual media. In most urban areas people live in the context of digital and media literacy. Screens of one sort or the other have reached even rural and remote parts of India. Even so, the gap in access to digital tools and skills in a great number of our schools is wide and troubling. For participation in our media-saturated, information-rich society it is up to schools to enable both teachers and students to acquire skills and media literacy to keep abreast, to inform and enrich their thinking and learning. That said, this article must confine itself to those who do have access, at home, at school or elsewhere at cyber cafes, etc.

Information literacy is the set of skills and knowledge that allows us to access, evaluate, and use the information we need, as well as to filter out the information which we don’t. Information and technology affects every person in every possible setting—work, education, recreation. According to Reuters magazine (1997), more information has been generated and circulated in the last 30 years than in the previous 5000. Paper, film, magnetic and optical media have doubled in production and availability in three years. It should be a matter of urgent concern that our schools use this availability to advantage and provide children with the skills to enrich their knowledge, critical and creative skills. ‘To be information literate, a person must be able to recognise when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use this effectively’- The American Library Association.

With a variety of reliable search engines, it is now possible to overcome the problem of quick obsolescence of information, and high cost of reliable reference books. Media Literacy skills and abilities required by and addressed to larger populations also include the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and create content for wider consumption. It is important to guide children how to ‘read’ messages in the media (including TV, movies, magazines, advertisements, computer and video games, popular music, and the Internet). These digital natives, more than any other segment in society, need to be encouraged and taught to be careful users of print, digital, and advertising literacy in all cultures. This will make them discerning, and promote ideals of self-actualization, cultural expression and aesthetic creativity.

A plan is vital to enable a student to access, locate and share information and ideas which she can understand. While a teacher must learn to analyse and evaluate content information by examining the purpose and point of view of the author, the student, through practice, must weigh, compare, assimilate and relate the information obtained to her contextual needs and interests. Information literacy requires some technical skills and can be considered as a liberal art, essential to the mental development of the educated information-age citizen. The power of information will work to advantage in college and professional life as well.

Teachers and/or students can then go on to create content of their own in a variety of forms, making use of language, images, sound, and new digital tools and technologies. Some practice with new media at school will take them comfortably into a future where they may live in one country and work in another. The School librarian (computer literate teacher-librarian, not just a keeper of books), should ideally play the negotiator, liaison and teacher partner on mutually agreed projects, lessons and new activities planned through use of inquiry and research. The librarian’s most useful input would be to help organise a way to search for the answer or support information.

Planning and Research may centre on posing a question or a proposition. Finding resources in databases, websites, films, print sources or local experts on the staff, parents or local figures. Evaluating Resources, by thinking critically about them Expressing or publishing the information learned through student podcasts, e-magazines and wikis. The key to doing well in our increasingly information-rich society is for schools and teachers to access information right from Primary school. Lessons in ‘Fact and Opinion’ will help children to distinguish between them early and form their independent opinions on matters ranging from healthy food choices to understanding moral options, to choosing subjects which would support their professional goals later in school life. It will point the way to objectivity and ethics in personal and life issues and even to developing a scientific temperament! Asking questions is essential to becoming media literate.

Teachers should address young students’ exposure to the media with the following in mind:

  • Recognise how media messages influence and manipulate us.
  • Think critically about media messages—to uncover hidden messages and values.
  • Interpret media messages in ways that do not damage their self-esteem
  • Learn how to reference material which is used, and avoid plagiarism of any sort.

Emphasis on this is absolutely imperative in our schools and colleges.

A knowledge of and reliance on context is helpful at this stage of learning. This makes acceptance or rejection of some facts and opinions easier or possible of our culturally diverse globalised societies. Critical thinking, an extremely vital skill, enhances information evaluation and information literacy among students.

Debates, formal presentations in essays and papers, equip young people with the skills they need, to understand, for instance, the political system of their country and their place and participation in it in adulthood. Familiarity with reliability of information, ideas or assertions must be built up gradually and responsibly by an enlightened staff of teachers. Love of learning for its own sake, self-confidence and ethical behaviour begin to emerge from every young consumer of all that is out there, on screens large and small, in print or audio. This is equal to being maturely information literate, enjoying the quest as much as the find.

Some New Technologies: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Siri, Skype, Chrome, iMovie and many mobile apps and eBooks.

Pritam Benjamin An educator for over 40 years, Pritam L Benjamin has a deep and abiding faith in practical idealism that should guide the awesome responsibility of educating children and young adults.

A gold medalist In English Literature from the University of Allahabad, for both graduate and post-graduate degrees, with a B Ed from Calcutta University, she has lectured at Women’s College Ranchi and Loreto College, Kolkata.

She committed herself totally to school teaching at Sishya in Chennai, La Martiniere for Girls in Kolkata, Bangalore International School, National Academy for Learning, Bangalore, Indus International School and Inventure Academy, in Bangalore as Vice-Principal and Principal.

She has initiated and supported innovation and change within curriculum, teaching practice and rethinking and redefining the vision and extent of the responsibility of schools and teachers to ‘educate for life’. Pritam Benjamin morphed into a teacher trainer, in the last 6 years. This has afforded her the privilege of learning and assimilating the changes that pedagogy and teaching practice have undergone.

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